The Healing Power of the Wilderness

The link below will take you to an article I recently had published with Passion Passport, on the theme of healing in the wilderness. As it is, it's mainly about the light and sound of the mountains. I hope you enjoy it!

For some reason, I can't embed a visual link. Sorry for this rather shoddy looking blog post!

a very brief conversation about heartache

The following is a transcript of a spontaneous and short conversation I had with myself whilst out running after a day spent with clients. It represents an imagined continuation of several unconnected conversations and thoughts had throughout the week on how we live with the things that wound us.  I was running the route I always run when I only have forty minutes. The sky was heavy with moisture, though not quite raining. The mist thick to the floor.

Me: How do you live with heartache then?

Myself: This again (laughs inwardly). I’m not sure there is a how.


Myself: I think you just do. You just do live with it. 


Myself: That wasn’t the answer you were looking for, was it?

Me: No, not really.

Myself: I’m sorry you feel disappointed. I suppose it does sound like a paradox doesn't it? You just do, by doing nothing at all. You get active with the idea of passivity perhaps. Of what you can't do. Hmmm. Let me think some more. Hold on.

*longer pause*

Myself: it seems to me, that everything that works aches. Everything that works, must ache.

Me: How do you mean?

Myself: I mean that, if something is operating hard and functioning well then it is being worked. It’s under strain. It must ache. The ache proves that it’s working.


Me: Ok...I think I see. Tell me more though. 

Myself: Would you expect your legs to always be pain free when you are running on them constantly? Do you not accept that they ache as a consequence of the work they’re putting in?

Me: Mmm. Yes. That’s true. When they ache I know I've done the work. I feel pretty satisfied actually. 

Myself: Exactly!

Me: my calves hurt, and I read that as inevitable damage that will repair. I welcome that. I invite that. It's kinda the point right?

Myself: (nods)

Me: And I suppose I rest them. I allow them that. And then I put them through the same ordeal again. As often as I can, actually. I try and keep myself fed in the right way so that they can do the work. I suppose I hope they’ll get stronger but, yes, I think they’ll always ache.

Myself: Yes. That. So, you see you do just live with heartache. You carry on in the same way. There's no magic how. The muscle just gets stronger. But it will always ache. This is the proof that it’s working. That it’s doing the work that you ask of it. That you are doing the work.

*end of run. kettle on*

International Women's Day 2018: a personal reflection

We sit together in vulnerability.

In the twelve months passed, I’ve worked in depth, therapeutically, with twelve women. This is coincidental, and didn’t happen neatly in blocks as the months sit in a year, or indeed as increments of time sit around the clock. But the number is meaningful to me. 

This morning I woke up with a profound sense of love and care for those women that have come in and out of my life this year – as I have come in and out of theirs - noticing how I carry each of them with me for much longer than they (or I) might have imagined. I feel grateful to have met them, heard their stories and been alongside them in the unpicking and sense-making of their trauma, abuse and bereavement.

In weekly meetings over several months you become woven into each other’s lives in a way that is unlike any other relationship. It is intense, and at times wrought and anguished, but also ephemeral, ambiguous and without label. You sit together in painful vulnerability. You sit together in the universal frustrations of being human, and the personal victories. In stuckness. In strength. You silently root for them to root for themselves. You’re on the edge of your seat. You are sunk in.

Sat with my morning tea today, I wondered: how are they getting on now? Are they still healing? Are they hopeful for their future? Do they feel enough? In therapy, you quickly adapt to planned, abrupt and unresolved endings; you get used to the fact you might never find out what happens next though you may wish to. Increasingly you recognise there’s something difficult and beautiful in that, and the easiest way to carry it, is not being afraid to.

Learning to love the Other without expectation of reciprocity or longevity, is one of the oldest, most fundamental and existentially challenging lessons that there has ever been. It is what opens a space for the Others self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and subsequent growth. A lack of love (felt and expressed as warmth and respect for the essential life within everyone) is the thing to fear most in and out of therapy. Sitting bravely with love – trusting in its errant and unfinished process – enlarges the capacity we all have for more of it.  

So, as I walked in the woods this morning I gathered twelve small cones for a jar on my desk. I piled twelve stones into circle and sat for a while. I listened to the wind, and felt the coming rain. I sat with the things that don't speak, and with the ever-present future wish. Finally, I dismantled the circle and left the woods.

Happy International Women’s Day 2018.

We Sit in Vulnerability

(an old photo taken in summer 2017)


On Sadness

No one seems to talk about being sad anymore. In a world rich with the parlance of mental illness and diagnosis, 'depression' is pushing out - what is to me at least - the more tolerable and beautiful elder of depression, sadness.

It's not easy to talk openly about sadness - perhaps because of the fear of deepening a hole in our bones for it to sink further in to, or because of what it 'brings up' that is uncomfortable to face - but the ubiquitous presence of sadness in art, music and literature tells us that we're as drawn to sorrow and melancholy as we've ever been. Hard to resolve as it is, there is a great deal of beauty in sadness. There is something alluringly cathartic about embracing the sad moment, and giving over to it's longing in the privacy of our own hearts, to the soundtrack of a song played in the minor chord.  

How we do sad is personal. For some, there is a need to be together in collective moments of grief and loss. For others, it can be an intensely private affair. There are some who release it through crying; finding relief in this climactic expression of pain and heartache. And others who will simply sit unto themselves and wait patiently for its end. But both states do not offer an end. Sadness cannot ever fully end, principally because everything else can.  Sadness is, because one day we will not. Sadness is an indication of reality. 

I identify with being a sad person, not because I'm unhappy and joyless - much of my life is a joy to me, expressed in hope - but because above all I am enthralled, enchanted and motivated by the 'difficult feelings' that flow out of the finitude of our human condition. I'm grateful to get up every day and start again, precisely because I know - sadly - I won't always. Like many, I have experienced enough loss to fill my shadow several times over, and I have invested my time in understanding how to work with it. At times, I hold on to sadness too tightly - I have done this again recently despite awareness of my 'process' - as if in doing so I might keep what cannot be kept - perhaps even relieve from others what they can't carry themselves. In doing so, sadness becomes unbearable.

But generally, I've found that a curious and kind approach to the inevitable visitation of sadness over the years has lead to my most empathic and compassionate work. If I can carry my own existential sadness with an embracing joy in the suffering of it - if I permit that in myself - then it invites and allows others to walk freely in and out of their own. Because there is nothing so stifling as being told what you should feel, nothing as liberating as being invited to feel what you want. Every feeling has it's own need for expression in and through the individual. Anything held too tightly can become a problem.

Sadness needs to breathe itself out, as much as we do. Mindfully noticing sadness and letting it move in and out of the rooms of our life, is to acknowledge that everything is welcome, before time ultimately runs out on us. Letting sadness in is an invitation to our mind and body to do it's most courageous work of recognising it's potential to do no more. There is no path that can be taken without it. But in the end the wish of sadness fulfilled, is peace. 

Walking in to the lonely place

Working Bravely

I consider myself to be pretty well-versed at living bravely; I've made several big lifestyle and work changes in recent years based on instinct and calling, I adventure regularly when I can giving most of my spare time to the mountains, and I live by my own measures of success in ways that others might or have raised an eyebrow at. Nevertheless, there's always scope for growth, and this week has been a new and welcome lesson for me in the specifics of working bravely.

Faced with a decision that I had only a split second to make, I went with intuition and decided to face the consequences afterwards, as and when they arose. I agonised over it at first. I whined to myself. I felt the palpitations come and go. I ate the food that comforted me. But as the week wears on, I feel curiously convicted of my position, the anxiety has passed, and I feel emboldened to trust my own voice again next time it matters the most; when I'm on my own and only I can provide. If it goes wrong then I will say confidently 'I Had My Reasons; here they are...' At the root of this change, was the fact that I fundamentally trust myself and my judgements. 

This experience, combined with the fact I have just finished Brene Browns Braving the Wilderness (which invites the reader to brave their inner and outer wildernesses in order to discover true belonging), set me on a train of thought about what working bravely really means. Whilst examples of what it means to work bravely are infinite, and will be different for everyone depending on their starting benchmark of comfort, I identified the following factors which made sense to me:

  • Crossing borders and not being afraid to walk on for the extra mile in service of what is calling you to act. 
  • Holding firm to your values as you would your favourite bag as you make your journey.
  • Taking intuitive risks without yet knowing what the path and 'pay off' will be.

These might sound obscure or even 'nothingy' at first glance, but within them is, I think, the essence of something universal and a bit radical in the face of 'the way things are done round here' narrative. Working bravely isn't one choice you make at the point of a career change, or one decision you make every blue moon; working bravely is about making courageous decisions every day. Every day, keeping an attitude of openness to your work that allows for tenacity, fearlessness and vitality. Working bravely, necessarily invites mystery, requires independence and brings authenticity. Afterall, you can't work bravely, without standing inside your whole-self to back you up. 

I'd love to hear your tales of working bravely, either here or on Instagram - do you cross borders for yourself or others? Do you want to but struggle to trust yourself? Are you unsure of what your guiding values are? 

 (Roll-top bag by Home of Millican)   not sponsored

(Roll-top bag by Home of Millican)  not sponsored